In this unit, students read Charlotte's Web and then write a chapter that is set one year after the state fair (and beyond the end of E.B. White's book). Presented with the scenario that Zuckerman's farm is failing and Wilbur again faces the chopping block, students take Charlotte's place as master problem solver and devise a plan to make sure Wilbur survives this latest peril. In order to focus attention on elements of characterization and plot, students are limited to using established characters in their stories, and must stay true to the traits bestowed on them by the author.
Using Seeing Reason, students consider the original story and analyze how traits of the characters influence story action and plot. Then they imagine plausible new actions for the characters to take in a new situation, based on the characters' personalities. They use their maps as an outline as they write the additional chapter. In culminating activities, students write cinquain poems and develop a persuasive presentation that shows how their interpretation of character ties into plausible actions in the final "rescue" of Wilbur.
View how a variety of student-centered assessments are used in the Charlotte’s Web Unit Plan. These assessments help students and teachers set goals; monitor student progress; provide feedback; assess thinking, processes, performances, products; and reflect on learning throughout the learning cycle.
Read the Story
Pose the Unit Question, Why do the characters in Charlotte’s Web seem so real? Have students keep reading journals as they read Charlotte's Web by E.B. White as a class or in reading groups. As you read the book, discuss character development and ask students to make predictions about the character's actions. For example, when Templeton is introduced, his first few words are:
"I prefer to spend my time eating, gnawing, spying and hiding. I am a glutton but not a merry-maker. Right now I am on my way to your trough to eat your breakfast, since you haven't got sense enough to eat it yourself."
After reading a passage such as this, ask:
To check for reading comprehension and encourage literary discussion, have students meet in small discussion groups as they read the book. During each meeting, have students rotate through the roles of group leader, monitor, recorder, and reporter as they discuss and record responses in their journals to example questions such as:
Charlotte spins the words "Some Pig," "Terrific," and "Radiant" in her webs to describe Wilbur. Do these accurately describe him? Why or why not? What words would you use to describe Wilbur? Find actions in the book that show why your words fit.
Get to Know the Author
To find out more about author E.B. White and read about his inspiration for Charlotte's Web, have students visit E.B. White's Official Home Page* and his author page at Houghton Mifflin Reading Kids' Place*.
Expand Understanding of Character Traits
During a brainstorming discussion, ask students to think of as many character traits as they can. Write the traits they offer in a list on a chart or the blackboard. To keep ideas flowing, recall a variety of vivid story or movie characters students may know who have strong character traits. To expand on their efforts, post or distribute this list of character traits. Discuss how different terms might apply to people they know as well as to characters in stories. Show students how to find definitions of less common traits using Word Central's Student Dictionary*.
Introduce the Seeing Reason Tool
Use the brief guide to introduce Seeing Reason to your class. Before proceeding with the next activity, click here to set up the Charlotte's Web project in your workspace.To address the Unit Question: How do the personality traits of the characters in Charlotte’s Web affect their actions and Wilbur’s safety? have students use Seeing Reason to express how characters' traits influence their actions and the plot of the story. Before students begin the use of the tool, have them use a graphic organizer to organize their thinking and analyze character traits. Students could use a T-chart or storyboard planner to organize this information.
Establish Character Traits
Begin addressing the Unit and Content Questions:
Assign students to teams of two or three, and have them log in to the student workspace. Direct their attention to the question above the mapping space: How do the personality traits of the characters in Charlotte's Web affect their actions and Wilbur's safety? Help students create factors for the main personality traits of each of the major characters (The posted class list and list of character traits are helpful prompts for getting started). For each trait, have students add a definition in their own words in the "describe this factor" field. They can check definitions using Word Central's Student Dictionary* if they are unsure.
Show Relationships Between Character and Plot
After adding traits to their maps, students add the plot factor: "Wilbur's safety" and then map the relationships between the characters' traits (for example, "Fern's compassion") and the action of the story ("Wilbur's safety").
Have them use the description fields to describe the relationships between characterization and plot ("Fern's compassion causes her to persuade her father not to kill the runt."). Encourage students to supply excerpts from the book to support the relationships they identify.
Examine the Seeing Reason Activity
The Seeing Reason Tool workspace below represents one team's investigation in this project. The map you see is functional. You can roll over the arrows to read relationships between factors, and double-click on factors and arrows to read the team's descriptions. In this example, students are creating a Seeing Reason map based on their own analysis of the character traits and using decision-making and critical thinking skills to explain why they chose these character traits.
Project Name: Charlotte's Web (Click here to set up this project in your workspace)
Qtionues: How do the personality traits of the characters in Charlotte’s Web affect their actions and Wilbur’s safety?
Explore an interactive demo.
As students create their maps, look for opportunities to gauge understanding and guide learning. Look at maps, listen to conversations, and ask students to describe their maps. Prompt deeper metacognitive thinking about the intricacies of the topic. Choose one group to model a think aloud:
“My team put Templeton’s selfishness as a factor which decreased Wilbur’s chance to live. We asked ourselves the questions, How does Templeton's selfishness cause him to behave? and How does his selfishness affect Wilbur's survival? We added this into the factor box after we discussed the questions to support our opinion with facts from the story.”
As students continue to work on their maps, drive further study by asking students questions and encouraging them to ask their own questions as well. Use this opportunity as an informal assessment of student understanding of the text.
Discuss and Refine
Using a projector system and networked computer, display several team maps and discuss general themes that appear. Encourage teams to describe the thinking behind their maps. Outside of class time, review maps and use the teacher comment feature to probe student thinking and informally assess the cause-and-effect relationships on each map. Give each team time to go back to their causal maps and modify them based on what they learned from others.
Imagine a New Ending
In the next phase of instruction, have students apply their understanding of how characterization drove plot in the original story to plan a new ending for Charlotte's Web. Create an environment that fosters creative thinking by having students give and receive peer feedback. Invite local authors to share their process of writing story endings. Read this "lost chapter" story prompt to the class to set up the scenario (Wilbur is again in danger) and task (write a new ending and save his life, staying true to the characters). Brainstorm one solution with the class based on one character's predictable actions. You may want to read this sample final chapter to get the imagination going. Go over the following suggestions. Post them where students can refer to them often as they plan their new ending:
Plan by Brainstorming Ideas
Before students write their new endings, have them refer to their Seeing Reason map they created earlier. Using the character traits and actions from the map, students plan their new ending by using cluster maps to brainstorm and plan their new chapter ideas. Ask students as they plan:
Guide students as they develop their stories. Remind them to consider the following Unit Questions as they work: Why do the characters in Charlotte’s Web seem so real? and How do the personality traits of the characters in Charlotte’s Web affect their actions and Wilbur’s safety?
Write a New Ending
Before teams begin writing, pass out a copy of the final chapter rewrite rubric and discuss the criteria for effective writing processes. Make sure students have a clear understanding of what is expected before they begin writing. Use the student example to model using the rubric correctly and effectively.
Once the team has agreed on a plot, the actual writing process begins. Have students use their map, cluster, and other notes as an outline for writing a final chapter. Guide students through the writing processes of drafting, revision, editing, and publishing as they develop their original ending to the story. Hold one on one teacher/student conferences to discuss and give feedback to student creativity and originality. Encourage students to hold peer conferences along the way to get feedback and make appropriate revisions.
Draft and Practice Oral Presentations
After teams have completed their chapters, have each team prepare to read its story aloud and present a short persuasive presentation that justifies the new ending based on understanding of character. Have students use multimedia slides as props to support their presentations. Go over the presentation scoring guide before students plan their presentations and create multimedia slides. You might want students to create a simple storyboard handout to guide their slideshow planning. Remind students that the presentation slides serve as visual cues for their speech and reinforce key points to the audience. Once students have completed their slideshow storyboards, they should meet with you to discuss their draft and get approval to move on to creating the actual slides and practicing their presentations.
Deliver the Presentations
Set aside a period for presentations. At the conclusion of each team's oral presentation, have presenters field questions from the audience. Ask the audience to assess each presentation using a peer review form.
Create Character Cinquain Poems
In addition to writing the final chapter, students have a second opportunity to hone their writing skills and focus on the relationship between characterization and plot through the genre of poetry. Have each student write a cinquain poem about a character he or she selected to make the hero or heroine of the Charlotte's Web final chapter. Explain the cinquain poetry form*, and share some examples. This sample cinquain poem includes an outline of one cinquain structure and does not follow any rules for syllabication. For guided practice, create a cinquain together using author, E.B. White's ending, and Charlotte the heroine of the story, as the poem's subject. Example:
Working, Writing, Saving
Creates Words in Her Web
Once students understand the form, they can create poems of their own. Encourage students to write and rewrite their poems. Remind them that the fewer words in a piece of writing, the more important it becomes to select the perfect ones. You may want to have students publish their poems and mount them in poetry frames for a pleasing bulletin board display and invite others to recognize students’ hard work and learning.
Wrap up the Unit
Bring the unit to a close by asking the Essential Question: Why do we do what we do? Help students to draw conclusions about how character traits influence actions in real life as well as in story books.
English Language Learner
A classroom teacher participating in the Intel® Teach Program developed the idea for this Unit Plan. A team of teachers expanded the plan into the example you see here.
Grade Level: 3-5
Subject: Language Arts
Topics: Character Traits, Plot Development
Higher-Order Thinking Skills: Metacognition, Cause and Effect, Creativity
Key Learnings: Story Elements, Creative Writing, Poetry, Persuasive Speaking
Time Needed: 15 class periods, 90 minutes each